The Mentor's Role

Mentoring is often touted as one of the most cost-effective solutions to juvenile delinquency and recidivism. Mentoring programs engage community advocates and volunteer mentors who are assigned to work with delinquent or at-risk youth and their families. Mentors can help create links from corrections to schools and the community. In some cases, mentors help monitor youth's compliance with conditions of parole.

Public/Private Ventures conducted a nationwide study18 on the impact of mentoring and found that adult mentoring as a strategy for supporting at-risk youth does work, particularly when the program is carefully supervised and supported by rigorous standards and trained personnel. Research provides evidence of resilient children who emerge from childhoods of poverty, abuse, neglect, and delinquency to become emotionally whole, capable adults. One of the documented protective factors that contributes to resiliency is the presence of a source of support outside the family. Mentors can be that source of support. A caring mentor can appropriately reflect and validate the youth's feelings, help with problems, and, at times, offer considered advice. Mentors frequently are the means by which young people learn of positive opportunities outside their communities.

OJJDP's Juvenile Mentoring Program (JUMP), established in 1992 through an amendment to the Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974, awards grants to local governments or nonprofit organizations that partner with local education agencies to pilot programs in which adults mentor high-risk and court-involved youth. OJJDP currently sponsors 170 JUMP sites in 42 States. While each mentoring program under JUMP must adhere to some basic requirements, grantees use a variety of program designs. Some programs emphasize tutoring and academics, while others emphasize vocational counseling and job skills. The varied mentoring programs share three goals: improving academic performance, reducing school dropout rates, and preventing delinquent behavior. All sites are required to coordinate their activities with local schools. OJJDP's 1997 Bulletin, Mentoring—A Proven Delinquency Prevention Strategy,19 describes early efforts under the JUMP program and also summarizes the Public/Private Ventures evaluation of the Big Brothers/Big Sisters of America program. OJJDP's 1998 JUMP Report to Congress20 indicates that youth involved in mentoring programs are less likely to experiment with drugs, less likely to be physically aggressive, and less likely to skip school than those not involved in such programs.

Central to any mentoring program is the concept of "the match." The goal is the formation of a relationship that will ultimately benefit the juvenile. Programs that recruit mentors hastily are doomed to failure. The mentoring process is a complex interaction. As with all human relationships, there are risks and potential trouble spots that must be acknowledged. Volunteers need to be realistically prepared for the hard work of relationship building and the potential discouragement such efforts can bring.

Key to the success of the match between a mentor and a young person is providing mentors with appropriate training and support. The Public/Private Ventures study found that effective programs provide mentors with training that includes communication skills development, tips on relationship building, and recommendations for ways to interact with young people. In addition, many of the Big Brothers/Big Sisters of America programs evaluated by Public/Private Ventures provided volunteer education and development programs that included training in values clarification, child development, and problem solving.

Partners Against Crime

Detroit's Partners Against Crime (PAC) mentoring program offers one approach to the problem of repeat juvenile crime that plagues urban centers across the Nation. The PAC program matches an adjudicated young offender with a community volunteer who has been screened and trained.21 Through PAC training, volunteers become well versed in the five characteristics PAC has determined to be pillars for successful mentoring: friendship, regular contact, listening, tapping resources, and reporting.

Friendship. Volunteer mentors build friendships with juveniles during weekly meetings. Often just sitting and talking with a young person for a long period of time is difficult. Building a friendship almost always needs to include an activity: visiting at a PAC chapter, going for a walk, attending a movie or sports event, window-shopping, playing a game, or having a soft drink and a hamburger. When mentors show that they care, that they are willing to give freely of their experience and time, and that they accept the mentored youth "as they are," friendships are inevitable.

Regular contact. All volunteers enter PAC with high expectations; however, without regular one-to-one contact, there will be little or no effect. Close mentoring friendships result from meeting face-to-face with consistency and continuity.

Listening. The most frequent need among young people today is for someone willing to listen to them. Mentored youth need to know that someone outside their own immediate family or peer group cares enough to listen. PAC volunteers build healthy mentoring relationships by being good listeners.

Tapping resources. The ability of juvenile offenders to fit into community life and to mature into productive citizens can be strengthened through contact with mentors who help smooth the way. Volunteers often know about networks of people who can assist mentored youth. Once needs are identified, PAC volunteers pursue possible avenues for meeting those needs. Volunteers often attend to very basic needs, such as providing food for youth and their families. Finding resources can mean getting a youth involved in a recreation program, making arrangements for a tutor, or providing guidance through the maze of college financial aid applications. Dedicated mentors almost always find ways of filling a youth's needs through personal or community resources.

Reporting. Certainly one of the least popular tasks among PAC volunteers is reporting. Often volunteers initially perceive no relation between paperwork and successful mentoring. While certainly not the object of mentoring, the reports are essential to relieving mentored youth of their most compelling problem: being under court jurisdiction. Volunteers can accurately report to the supervising probation officer, referee, or judge that the probationer is complying with the court's conditions related to PAC participation. Such accountability helps the court to verify compliance. To be truly successful, PAC volunteers must spend the time required each month to complete reports.

In 1995, Wayne State University in Detroit, MI, conducted an impact evaluation of the PAC program. The evaluation findings indicate that recidivism was 38 percent lower for PAC clients compared with a control group and more than 50 percent lower for PAC clients compared with probationers who declined to participate in PAC.

The results of the PAC program in Detroit continue to be impressive. Young boys and girls who might otherwise see a probation officer once or twice during probation instead see a mentor an average of 50 hours during the same time period. Youth who appeared to be caught in a downward spiral have found new hope. They are improving in school, are better able to cope with family situations, and are staying out of further trouble. The PAC program is a success because volunteer mentors from the community take the time to demonstrate that they care and want to make a difference in the life of an adjudicated youth.

For more information about PAC, contact Mr. Kim G. Frentz, Program Director, Partners Against Crime, 163 Madison Avenue, Suite 120, Detroit, MI 48226; 313-964-1110.

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From the Courthouse to the Schoolhouse: Making Successful Transitions Juvenile Justice Bulletin February 2000